When is a tripod not a tripod? When it has more or less than three legs, of course. But what if it has none?
Innovative equipment designers and technology manufacturers have come up with monsters and gorillas, beanbags and stickies, in order to meet videographers' need to create more unique, more engaging compositions, shots, and angles.
CP 5 Mini Camera Pod
Admittedly, bringing a bottle along on your next shoot may sound like the wrong way to get creatively inspired. But it may help your shot selection. Of course, we're not talking about drinking on site, necessarily—rather, using the bottle as a multi-purpose camera support.
The new the CP 5 Mini Camera Pod from OSN (One Source Network) is designed to attach to bottles with a diameter of an inch or so (the manufacturer does recommend that the bottle be full, by the way—or at least mostly full). It can also be attached to other objects, like a car window, using its thumbscrew clamp. Again, it's really for lightweight cameras.
The new CP 5 Mini Camera Pod from One Soure Network
For several years now, Cinekinetic's CineSaddle has been used to get more professional cameras in and out of very unusual positions. Available in different sizes, materials, and configurations, the CineSaddle contains a bunch of hi-tech foam balls, which can be molded to fit the shape of almost any object, be it a platform on which the saddle is placed, or the camcorder it holds and embraces securely.
Priced anywhere from $85 to $375, Cinekinetic's camera support can be used with MiniDV, HDV, and even Betacam camcorders.
Cinekinetic's CineSaddle. PHOTO BY BEN BALSER, WOLF DIGITAL MEDIA
Along somewhat similar lines, but (at present) designed for much smaller, lighter cameras, is The Pod (the name of both the product line and the company selling it). The Pod is basically a little bean bag with a threaded 1/4-20" mount built in. It, too, will mold itself to almost any shape, and thus can be used to place a camera on top of almost any object or surface, flat or not. The Pod's bean sac actually opens up, thanks to Velcro strapping, and can be filled with more plastic beans for securing heavier cameras.
The company may add even larger pre-fab models to its lineup in the future. For now, the largest version sells for around $20.
The Pod from The Pod Camera Platforms
Designed more for digital still cameras, but with applications for lightweight handheld camcorders and the like, the Gorilla Pod from Joby features flexible, bendable legs that wrap around almost anything in order to provide camera support in unusual locations. It, too, features a universal 1/4-20" screw mount.
A Gorilla Pod DSLR model was about to be unveiled at press time; larger units with greater carrying capacities are anticipated. The current version sells for $22.
Joby's Gorilla Pod
Unlike the metallic fabrication that is the Gorilla Pod, the Monster Pod is elastic—almost gel-like. Made of viscoelastic polymer contained in a neoprene membrane, the Monster Pod sticks almost anywhere and molds to almost anything, acting as a temporary mounting device (it's equipped with a 1/4-20" thread).
It supports just 10 oz of weight in its current configuration, so it's not for most pro video camcorders. But it could be creatively used with some disposable still cameras or videocams to get shots never seen before.
Monster Pod Technology's Monster Pod
Also capable of adhering to almost any surface is the Sticky Pod, but it uses suction cups rather than sticky polymers, attached to the bottom of a metallic plate or base. Accordingly, it has a much higher weight capacity, and can be used to hold a 15 lb camera for three hours or more. Sticky Pods come in various sizes and configurations, including ones for inside or outside use.
The Sticky Pod Director, priced around $600, is a full kit with three bases and suction cups, various extensions, spacers, steel studs, and safety tethers.
The StickyPod Director
Many videographers use the Sticky Pod—or similar devices—to mount cameras in or on a car. But of course, there are devices dedicated to such uses.
The CruiseCam line of products, for example, is used widely in the law enforcement industry. Complete systems incorporate dual cameras, wireless microphones, and DVRs, but camera mounts are available as standalone products.
CruiseCam Headrest Camera Mounts clamp inside the vehicle, across the back of the passenger seat headrest, allowing hands-free filming from the driver's viewpoint. Priced at less than $50, it features lightweight anodized aluminum tubing, die-cast adjustable clamps, plastic knobs, and a universal (1/4-20") mounting screw.
The choice of camera mounts for cars (and motorcycles and the like) is fairly broad, actually, and includes offerings from the do-it-yourself level on up to the major manufacturer accessory level. Bogen/Manfrotto, for example, well-known for its professional tripods and camera support accessories, offers a car window mounting device (currently priced at less than $30!) that allows mounting with its 3/8-16" stud on the end.
Although not all the items described above are necessarily suitable for top-notch videography, they do give you an indication of how camera support and tripod manufacturers are going, and where their customers want them to go next.
Along those lines, and sticking with Manfrotto for just a moment, the ever-popular fluid-head tripod concept has been morphed into a monopod, combining some of the best of both worlds. This monopod offers extra smooth moves thanks in part to a fluid cartridge contained in its base.
The Manfrotto 560B, designed for the latest MiniDV and HDV camcorders, also features pivoting retractable feet for firm shooting from uneven terrain, and a quick-release tilt-top head. It extends to a maximum height of 65.3 in and folds down to around 26 in for storage or transportation. For less than $150, it sounds like a great deal.
But lest you think the world of camera support has gone entirely legless, in part two of this camera support report, we'll look at some more conventional options. Be they one leg or three, they are all good.